Is an MBA the key to success in the business world? Most people would probably answer that question in the affirmative, and with good reason. The top MBA programs in the UK; London Business School, LSE, Oxford, Wawrick etc. all have extensive alumni networks that often extend to the highest positions in every industry. The connections that can be made during and after the programme, along with the knowledge that can be gained from it mean that on paper, doing an MBA should be a no-brainer.
However, as is so often the case, things just aren’t that simple. Yes MBA’s can open a lot of doors and provide you with vital business “know-how,” but they have also been accused of being formulaic in their teaching structure and relying more on connections than ability. In his bestselling book ‘What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” Mark McCormack, once called “the most powerful man in sport,” claimed that one of the biggest mistakes me made early on in his career was that he hired too many Harvard MBA’s. This wasn’t an indictment of the skills taught in MBA programs, but rather of what they leave out. Mr McCormack discovered that many of his employees that held Harvard MBA’s were up to their ears in theoretical knowledge, but would habitually be late for meetings or fail to return phone calls. These might seem like minor things, but they can have a lasting impact on business relationships, particularly with clients.
This leads on to the subject of careers, and more specifically, how having an MBA can impact one’s career choices. Many young MBA graduates leave full of enthusiasm with a new business idea, only to find the real business world has a much harsher climate than the theoretical one they just came from. Another interesting fact is that many MBA students lose interest in their desired career choice either right before or right after graduating. The Financial Times recently stated that at “City University’s Cass Business School, around 30% of full-time MBA students change their minds about their career before graduating.
All in all, whilst MBA’s and the networks they provide are an excellent source of both knowledge and contacts, it is important to understand that there are aspects of business not covered in the classroom. Practical knowledge can be just as important as theoretical knowledge. It should also be remembered that it’s possible to change your mind, as your career path isn’t defined by what you want to do this instant. There are many stories of people who thought they had a set career path, only for one conversation or blind job application to change their trajectory.
The moral of the story is that, while having an MBA can be a valuable asset to your professional life, it doesn’t completely define it.